One final whisk: Chef Francine Mays hangs up apron


Photo by Dhruv Nallamothu '25

BON APPETIT Francine Mays hands a student the last meal she will give out. “I have been so happy to work here.”

After five years of serving on the Plum kitchen team, Francine Mays is putting down the ladle. As one of the inaugural members of the team, Mays’ familiar face has stood out to teachers and students alike. Unlike the typical “lunch lady” that is seen in movies and TV shows, Mays takes her time to get to know the students, from greeting them on a daily basis to asking for their names.

“It was time for me to pass the baton,” said Mays. “I believe that there’s a season for everybody and that my season is up. In order for me to be the best Francine possible, I need to take some time away.”

Mays has been a part of the Plum market staff for about eight years. Moving between different facilities before settling at Greenhills in August 2018. She had previously been a chef at Grosse Pointe Academy in Grosse Pointe Farms and was looking for a new line of work. 

“I took a job at Gleaners community food bank,” said Mays. “I was out in the community doing food drops and food education as a chef. I cooked food, I took food samples out into the community and encouraged families to take food.” Since this was a grant based job, after a year I got laid off. Following this, I reached out to Kelly Toone, the vice president of food services for Plum Market, and expressed that I was out of a job. I wanted to come back to Plum and had a really good working relationship with them. He told me about a school on the horizon [Greenhills] and told me to look it up and read about it so that I could potentially work there if we got the contract.”

Mays has been in the food service industry for most of her culinary career. Specifically, for the enhancement of the community and to support students for healthier dining. 

“I first googled Greenhills School in 2017 and did a couple of interviews and was really looking for something that suited me,” said Mays. “I had worked a couple of filler jobs, till I came to Greenhills. I started my training in spring of 2018 at Detroit Country Day.”

She was able to learn about what it takes to run a school kitchen, as well as the ins and outs of recipe making and kitchen management. She thanks her two mentors, Jen and Chris for the amazing foundation she was able to expand from. 

“I opened the Plum kitchen with Chef Tony in August 2018,” said Mays. “We cleaned and sanitized the kitchen, and got it ready for the health inspection, and the rest is history. We started cooking food for you guys.”

She got into food in order to help other people to learn and try to focus more on what they were putting in their bodies.

“I always have cooked, I learned how to cook from my mom, and learned how to bake from my Aunt Mattie at 11 years of age. I was learning how to make pound cakes, carrot cake, German chocolate cake, so I was baking these cakes from scratch at a very young age. I spent my childhood summers with my grandma, and I truly believe that my mother and my grandmother are the reason I love food.”

Family has always been an important part of her life and her love has been reflected in her food. 

“When I went to culinary school, we had a project on our passion for food,” said Mays. “I did a tribute to my grandmother, in order to honor her for all of the summers she spent with me in teaching me how to cook.”

She honored her grandmother at Greenhills as well. Mays made sure to put her past on the plate for all students.

“[At Greenhills] I made a tribute to my grandmother for Black History Month. In February of 2020, I made my grandmother’s roasted chicken using her dressing recipe and the peach cobbler. It was really special for me to see everyone enjoying it.”

Although Mays will not be present in the kitchen anymore, Mays’ legacy will live on through the entirety of the Greenhills kitchen. She will always be remembered for her genuine smile and for all the work she does behind the scenes. Now that she’s moving forward, she wants students to hear her final message.

“Food should be cooked with love. You have to learn the groove of a kitchen,” said Mays. It should be cooked in a harmonious environment. Like an orchestra plays, that’s how a kitchen runs. I love to cook and I encourage you to do what you love.”